Gaza Tense After Deadliest Day Since 2014
Funerals are being held in Gaza for 58 people killed on Monday when Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinian protesters, in the deadliest day of violence there since a war in 2014.
The burials coincide with the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba – a mass displacement of Palestinians after Israel’s creation.
Israel’s military said it was preparing for further confrontations on Tuesday.
But Palestinian groups indicated they intended to rein in the protests.
Monday’s violence came as the US inaugurated its first embassy in Jerusalem, a controversial move that broke with decades of US policy and incensed Palestinians.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city – which Israel regards as its indivisible capital.
Palestinian officials said that, as well as those killed, about 2,700 people were injured in Monday’s violence – which they condemned as a massacre.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said his military was acting in self-defence against Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, who he said wanted to destroy Israel.
But the United Nations human rights office was was heavily critical of Israel’s use of force.
“The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot,” spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
“How much threat can a double amputee be making from the other side of a large fortified fence?” he added.
What happened at the Gaza border?
Palestinians were demonstrating on Monday as they have been for seven weeks, as part of a protest orchestrated in part by Hamas and branded the “Great March of Return”.
But Monday’s protests – and those planned for Tuesday – mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948 and commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who subsequently fled their homes or were displaced in the war that followed.
How did the world react?
Israel’s actions were condemned or criticised by the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon and other nations. Israel was defended by its key ally, the US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose not to directly address the deadly violence in Gaza.
- White House spokesman Raj Shah said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas… Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response”
- Kuwait drafted a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent inquiry into the violence – and expressing “outrage and sorrow” – but this was blocked by the US
- The UK said “the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning” but called on protesters to act peacefully
- Germany said Israel had the right to defend itself but should do so proportionately
- France’s President Emmanuel Macron condemned violence by the Israeli military
- Russia said it was watching closely, adding that the Palestinian death toll “cannot but provoke the deepest concern”
- Turkey said the US shared responsibility with Israel for a “vile massacre” and that it was recalling its ambassadors from both countries
- South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel, condemning “the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack”
The violence and the embassy opening
The violence in Gaza and the US embassy opening were not explicitly linked, but both were timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary on Monday.
Commentators drew attention to the stark contrast between the images from Jerusalem – of a high-level US delegation, alongside Mr Netanyahu and his wife, celebrating the new US embassy opening – and the violent images emerging from Gaza.
The Gaza strip
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt, about 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide. It is home to about 1.8 million Palestinians, making it the third most densely population place in the world.
The shape of the strip was defined by ceasefire lines with Egypt at the end of the 1948-9 Arab-Israeli war.
Egypt administered Gaza for the next 19 years but Israel occupied it in the 1967 Arab-Israel war. It withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005 but the UN still considers the territory occupied because Israel retains control over the territory’s air space, coastal waters and shared border.
Politically, Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which Israel, and other powers, regards as a terrorist group. Since 2007, Israel and Egypt have enforced a sea and air blockade, controlling the flow of commercial goods, and people in and out of the strip. They say it is for their own security.
The Gaza Strip is impoverished and the UN has warned it is on the verge of total collapse.
In 2014, a 50-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians died.